I am a Florida girl, Miami specifically. That means sunshine, snapper, flat highways ( I-95), and Cuba Libres — if you get my drift. Now I live in Tennessee, home to hills (i-65), Catfish and Bourbon Old Fashions. I was recently invited to the 2017 Georgia Wine Highway Week. To spend a weekend tasting multiple wines with a group of random strangers that I only knew through Facebook group. Surprise, I learned more about winemaking in the hills of Georgia than in any expensive seminar I ever attended.
Home base for Georgia Wine Highway Week was Paradise Winery in Blountstown. Paradise is owned by a nice guy name Tom and his wife. They have a smaller vineyard setup but surrounding the vineyard are 10 cabins that range from a 2 story/4 bedroom to really cute efficiency-type cabins perfect for couples. Tom is a wealth of winemaking information, and I could spend hours just discussing winemaking with him. The main grape here is called Chardonnale – an east coast/west coast hybrid that grows like wild fire in Georgia. It has a taste similar to an unoaked chardonnay and blends with other grapes well.
The real jewel at Paradise Winery is the wine tour ,as the grape cultivation knowledge is priceless. The dirt in Georgia is so nutrient rich that grapes thrive in this environment. The sun hits the hills of Georgia at a perfect angle and in combination with great rain and sun, grapes are very happy here. The vines grow so well that they will cut the vines by hand leaving the better clusters and wasting half of the grapes. The grapes wasted serve as a food sacrifice to the deer, bear, squirrels, and raccoons. The Chardonnale grape is so sturdy and resistant to disease that it requires very little in the way of insecticide. Georgia grape crush/harvest season is August through September and during winter months the vines are bare and allowed to grow.
With signs of Spring in March the first buds appear with a slight pink color similar to a cherry blossom. One grape vine may have 10+ buds, however in spring they are cut down to only the first 2 buds closest to the vine. This de-stresses the grape vine and allows all the vine’s energy to be directed into the remaining grapes (yes vines stress, too). The mature grapes are all harvested by hand with the grapes for white wine going from vine to crush to the aging tank to bottle. The grapes for red wine go through a longer process as they are crushed and fermented for 14 days in tanks located outside. The buildup of CO2 in the fermenting tanks is so strong and fast that the grapes have to be punched down throughout the day. The red wine then goes to the aging tanks and it then bottled.
Over the next 2 days we visited the 9 additional wineries, but If you are on limited time and have to limit the number of wineries you visit, IF NOTHING ELSE you must go to Crane Creek during Georgia Wine Highway Week. This is one of the bigger wineries with sprawling vineyards and a welcoming tasting room. The warm décor reminds you of Italy or at least Olive Garden. There were 3 dogs running around, each with their own temperament, ranging from an unbothered Scottish Terrier to a 3-legged Black Labrador. The wine ranged from refreshing whites, like their Zusa to their truly excellent Hellbender Red.
The Zusa is a blend of Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and Traminette. It has a bright and crisp finish with very low acidity, but still manages to have a slight citrus finish. Can one say “Porch Pounder”. The Hellbender Red is made from 100% Norton grapes from Virginia. It’s a semi-dry red wine, with real berry notes. Yes! not that fake shiggity that they said you were tasting at that Whole Paycheck tasting you went to last month. We purchased a case of Hellbender Red and I drank an entire bottle while writing this post. It’s just that good.
I could go on about the 2017 Georgia Wine Highway Week, but this blog post would probably turn into a novella. We tapped out the next day after we completed 8 tastings of wine ,an entire glass of wine slushy. Full of liquid courage we convinced the guest guitarist to play Prince’s Purple Rain. That was at the second winery. On a Sunday morning. Go ahead and judge, but I will most definitely be back in 2018 with an extra day built in. Tom, have my cabin ready!
* Porch Pounder: An alcoholic beverage that is so damn tasty and smooth you can sit on your porch and pound 1 glass after another.